I’ve seen a large number of squeezed-out gel packets lying on the ground lately. It could be an anomaly, but frankly, seeing just one rattles me. Here’s the thing: I don’t think it’s pure arrogance, or even a lack of awareness that causes this highly avoidable and infuriating habit. I think it’s lack of skill.
My formative years involved cycling, but consisted primarily of sports that required a great deal of coordination and adaption to rapidly changing environments. Talk about speed and bike handling all you want, the fact is, on the open vs closed scale, cycling is a lot closer to bowling than it is to basketball or hockey. Remember how the cycling world went crazy when Sagan wheelied? Being able to wheelie was a prerequisite for being 9 years old in my childhood, yet when that video made the rounds, we collectively acted like those teenage girls on the Ed Sullivan show when The Beatles first played. How many roadies can ride with no hands, or bunny hop onto a curb with ease? Not nearly enough.
That realization that fallen gel packets represents a lack of skill is good for two reasons: 1) it allows one to laugh at this, and 2) it helps solve the problem. If people were throwing these things on the ground voluntarily, stopping them would involve affecting ethical behaviour change which is no small task. But because, the perpetrators are simply unable to tear along a perforated line, squeeze some disgusting ooze down their gullet, and put the packet back in their jersey pocket without dropping, it’s an easy fix.
Next time you’re a witness, stop, turn around and pick up the pack. Then chase back on (it won’t be difficult) and give the person a very condescending step by step demo on how to consume gel. Use the terms “newbie”, “lots of first time riders have this trouble”, and “it used to happen to my 5 year old all the time”. Throw in a remark about them using the gel at the wrong time during the ride, and voila, you’ve paid it forward.
Never underestimate the power of shame as a motivator in cycling.